Space-based ADS-B… Take 2
Over two years after my first comments about the Aireon tracking system presentation given by Nav Canada (see President’s Corner, January 2016), the project is taking shape with more satellites going up, wonderful technology taking us out of the stone age where aircraft will be able to be seen all over the world. And even though there is still no official mandate for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) Out in Canada as spelled out by Transport Canada (TC), Nav Canada says there will clearly be a mandate. In fact, they are asking for feedback on their “Terms of Reference – Canadian ADS-B Out Mandate” as you read this. Pressed for an answer, TC officially says “nope”, while NC says “of course we will have ADS-B Out.” I have yet to figure this one out. Regardless, we’re in the process of looking at what’s best for us, for our members and for general aviation in the country, trying to leverage this technology above our heads as we fly across the country. I will refrain from comments or an opinion at this point.
One thing I am absolutely certain of is that this system could replace any form of Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) such as the 406MHz which TC should make mandatory for us in the near future. Several recent incidents in the past months (June 2017 in Cranbrook and this past November around Revelstoke, both in BC) have shown once again that when ELTs don’t go off, they’re just a few useless pounds in the aircraft. Our ELTs rely on an old mechanical g-switch technology, a fragile whip antenna and a wide variety of installation quality. All can be greatly surpassed by stronger sold-state devices and the antenna we already use for our transponder. Even the simple accelerometers we have in our phones can probably do a better job than the ELTs.
So as we look at a possible mandate for ADS-B out, one of our requirements is for the development of a safety feature that would replace the 406MHz ELT with as good a track record as space-based ADS-B is purported to have. Back in January 2016, I said: “What’s preventing it from being applied to private or general aviation? Right now, it’s a technical race between something that arbitrarily works (ELTs) and something that will most always work as long as your ADS-B transponder transmits, and give you a much better chance of being found should something happen.”
General aviation is entitled to the same level of safety as the airlines and the big commercial operators. In the meantime, we still encourage everyone to use an ELT, personal locator beacons or any other means such as portable devices for alerting search and rescue. And don’t forget to listen to 121.5 MHz on another radio if you have one.
COPA Flights will be consulted in the next few weeks on the ADS-B subject, as well as several others. Stay tuned for the invitation and have a safe and happy new year.